What Designers Want

Professionals in any field have hang-ups and annoyances that they deal with every day. Bank tellers have to deal with customers who want to deposit hundreds of dollars in nickels, firefighters have to deal with cats stuck in trees, and swimsuit models have to deal with sand.

As a graphic designer, my second-least favorite part of any project is the very beginning—the moment when I get my first look at the materials that have been delivered to me before I get started. (My first-least favorite part of a project is the very end—the moment when I open the box of advance copies from the printer and notice for the first time, after missing it on countless proofs, that the word “Public” on the front cover is missing a letter and that spell check didn’t catch it because it created another word.)

It’s rare that a graphic designer generates all of the text and images that he or she incorporates into a given project, so the collaborative process usually begins in the hands of someone who is not the designer. Any time I work on a new project, I try to outline how I’d like materials delivered. The longer I work with a given freelance client or contact at work, the more smooth that process becomes.

I don’t like to generalize, but graphic designers are cynical jerks who spend all day stroking their goatees thinking about how great the world would be if everyone would just listen to them. Chapter 7 of the book Interpretation By Design is called “Making the Collaborative Process Work,” which is code for “How Normal People Can Get Along with Cynical Jerks Who Spend All Day Stroking Their Goatees Thinking About How Great the World Would Be if Everyone Would Just Listen to Them.” On page 89, the subhead “What to Provide the Designer” is code for “Designers Will Moan and Roll Their Eyes About Whatever You Give Them to Work With.”

With that in mind, here are some of the points I try to emphasize when I work with a new client regarding the delivery of materials:

Text: Don’t Tab
Most of the time, the problems designers have with working files are the result of good intentions. In crafting the text for a publication, writers will format it in word processing documents—they’ll create tables and columns, place photos, and worst of all, use the tab key to create alignments. There’s nothing I hate to see more when I open a Word file than a bibliography or a list of works cited that an author has formatted using returns and tabs.

More often than not, your designer will not use the same program for page layout that you use to create the content, which means that all of that formatting you did in Microsoft Word will have to be undone by the designer before it can be re-done in page-layout software like Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress. As a designer, I’m much happier to receive text with no formatting at all (except bold or italics to indicate hierarchy) that includes notes to me with instructions. I’d rather see a note that says “Designer: this is a sidebar” than have to copy and paste text out of a box in a Word file.

Images: Original Files, Please
Again, the path to annoyed designers is paved with good intentions. If you want a photo cropped or otherwise corrected, most designers prefer that you provide instructions to that effect rather than manipulating the image yourself. If you do manipulate an image yourself, provide the original version along with the corrected version.

Also, your designer will prefer images as separate files rather than embedded in a word processing document. Personally, if a client has a specific place where they want an image to be placed, I prefer to be alerted with a simple note to the effect of “Hey goatee-stroking jerk: Insert image_name.jpg here.”

Provide Final Files All at Once
This point is really two points rolled into one. The important word in the first part is final. Most designers working on a freelance basis will incorporate one round of corrections into a bid before they add hourly surcharges. Significant changes to text that should have been finalized before it went to the designer will usually alter the layout and result in charges that could have been avoided—not to mention emphatic goatee stroking and muttering behind your back on the part of the designer.

The second part, all at once, means that most designers don’t want partial delivery of a project. When you say to a designer, “I’m giving you half of the text and 13 of 50 photos so that you can started,” he or she will stroke his or her goatee and say, “Okay,” which really means, “I’m going to eat Ding Dongs and watch the Cartoon Network instead of working on your project.” This is not because designers are jerks (which, I reiterate, we are), but rather because having all of the materials in front of us will allow us to make decisions about how to lay out a project.

We strive to make IBD a bridge between the fields of interpretation and graphic design. If you’re an interpreter who works with designers, I hope this post will help make some aspects of your projects go a little more smoothly. If you’re a designer who works with interpreters, lighten up a little, would ya?

6 thoughts on “What Designers Want

  1. Whatever happened to Helen Hunt?

    BTW, King Dongs are the better waxy-chocolate, hockey puck-shaped, cream-filled dessert. (Why do I suddenly have a feeling of paranoia that Joan is going get me for using three hyphens?)

  2. Arrrrrrrr — Avenging Angel of Hyphenation is ON your case, Shea. Fortunately, you distracted me by including the word ‘chocolate’ so I’m going to eat instead of correcting your comment.

    These are all good points, except that I find that ‘collaboration’ also includes some back-and-forth between design and text. Lots of clients will change the text once they see the first draft of the layout, because things just work differently once there are images. I’ve even have clients bring me in to write the text after they already have the first draft of the layout, with dummy copy.

    What we usually do is, I’ll provide text with thumbnail images or illustration descriptions and reference images, and some formatting to the client and the designer. The designer then does a pencil sketch of the layout so the client can see how the images and text will work together. Then, once everything is finalized, I provide the unformatted text and raw images to the designer.

    One of the only things I like about the latest version of Word is that it has a ‘clear formatting’ button. Which is helpful for removing all of the random formatting it inserts by itself. Working with Word can be like baking chocolate chip cookies with a preschooler. Mmmmmm….. chocolate.

  3. I like chocolate too, but am lost as to what that has to do with graphic designers and goatees? And what about Helen Hunt? I am lost on that one too, though I throughly enjoyed her in Mad about you.
    Either I am having senior moments and am lost on the relevance of all of this, or the high altitude in Fort Collins is affecting my brain cells.

  4. As a magazine editor who relies on contributions from about 20 volunteers each issue, Paul, OMG, I love you. I’m sending this blog to every single one of the contributors (although I’m adding one thing: “Spell proper names correctly, because I don’t know the people you’re writing about, so if you spell their name wrong, it’s your fault when they get mad.”

  5. Good post. As an interpreter who has worked with designers, I’d just like to add “Designer: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS you’re given!!!! Don’t not read them, do it all wrong and then goatee stroke and roll eyes when I ask you to change it according to what was said in the first place. And while you’re reading (you can read English?), why not actually LOOK at the text to see if the layout makes sense rather than just blindly pasting to a layout?

    Sorry if this reads like a rant – it’s meant to be a good humoured one! 😉

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